As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
Last January, we declared 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” and what a fruitful year it was. We had our fair share of fresh experiences and were also able to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to again focus on neighborhoods off the main tourist trail in 2019, as well as the people and places that keep them going. Below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
Southwest of the Acropolis, starting from the foot of Filopappou Hill and stretching west to Pireos Street, Petralona is a large residential neighborhood that is split down the middle by rail tracks, forming the picturesque Ano Petralona, which is closer to the Acropolis, and Kato Petralona (Upper Petralona and Lower Petralona, respectively).
Settled since ancient times, the area has had a long and winding history: it was abandoned and later re-inhabited, and renamed several times (at one point, Kato Petralona was known as Katsikadika – from the word “katsika,” which means goat – due to the large number of goat herders in the area). Later, a part of Ano Petralona came to be known as Assyrmatos or Attaliotika after 1922, when around 800 families of Greek refugees from Asia Minor settled here. Over time, some of their impoverished homes were replaced by a large, drab apartment block built for workers and, alternatively, at the behest of Queen Frederiki in the 1950s, beautiful stone houses. Some of the ramshackle sheds remained and were later romanticized by the film Dream District (1961), which was shot here.
Since then, this formerly working-class area has steadily morphed into a bohemian enclave beloved by Athenians, which is what makes it so appealing. This is partly because Petralona, despite its proximity to the Acropolis, never became overrun with tourists. As a result, long-established businesses catering to locals like the legendary old-school taverna Oikonomou, the historic open-air cinema Zephyros, and the affordable meze joints Aster and To Tsipouradiko tou Apostoli have flourished. Moreover, planning restrictions on buildings above a certain height have helped to preserve Petralona’s interesting mix of architecture, which range from prewar neoclassical buildings to modernist apartment blocks.
Many Athenians have chosen to live here, or at least spend their free time in the neighborhood, because of its unpretentious and bohemian vibe. You will find locals of all ages whiling away their days at Lola, Klouvi, Vraziliana and Kyrios Chou, a few of the popular all-day café-bars that provide an antidote to the hectic pace of Athens’ city center. And while development in Petralona may not be fast-paced, that hasn’t stopped (relatively) newer places from opening, like the modern tavernas Xrysa Xrysa and Kappari, the punk bistro Theio Tragi, which provides contemporary fine dining with a twist, and Blue Bamboo, famed for their Thai food and cocktails. For a sweet end to the day in this laidback neighborhood, we always make sure to visit Alice Cakewitch for one of their mouthwatering handmade cakes. – Carolina Doriti
Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.